Archive for July 2011

So you need a vision – 3 Israeli case studies

July 19, 2011

Your mentor or consultant tells you that you need a vision, but you have no idea where to start. You do not even know why.

Let me simplify things. Vision is all about knowing what you want your commercial dream to look like in about 5-10 years. It gives focus to your initial decision making.

In the space of 36 hours, I was given three wonderful examples of this exercise, while touring around Israel this week.

About 30 minutes north of Tel Aviv is Utopia Orchid Park. Now you may not expect a small tropical paradise to be located on an old kibbutz, but that is what I found.

Once through the obligatory (?) shopping area, we came out to a mock equatorial waterfall. Orchids, carnivorous plants, butterfly enclosure, cacti and more. Simple, but an effective piece of escapism from the hassles of city life.

And here’s my point. This park was created from nothing. Somebody must have had an idea, and knew what they wanted to put together. The paths around the park fitted together effortlessly, as we moved from theme to theme. Vision, and you can see how they want to develop the place further.

From Kibbutz Bahan, we motored northwards, coming out in the Galilee, just below Safed. We stopped at a modern shopping centre. If you looked carefully, you can still see the old buildings from 130 years ago, made from black volcanic rocks.

And occupying barely 25 sq meters of one of the ancient structures is an innocuous-looking pizza parlour, “Siciliano Pizza”. No website. Just a small sign outside. Don’t ask me why, something encouraged me to go in.

45 minutes later, I left with a very satisfied stomach – possibly the best pizza I have ever had. Not greasy nor overburdened by spicy tomato paste. It was light and very tasty. The table cloths were clean – even looked like something out of a mock Italian gangster film. And the multiple “pregos” from the staff sounded genuine. 

Simple and effective – this guy knows what he is doing and how he wants to appeal to customers.

10 minutes later, I had made it to our boutique hotel, “House in the Galilee” (BayitBagalil). If the pictures on the website look nice, they do not do the place justice.

The hotel is located on the edge of a forest. Everything seems to have been thought through in detail – the Arabic floor tiling, the short distance of the outdoor pool from the hotel itself, an excellent chef menu, a spa offering unique treatments, and much more. And staff that offer you a smiley good morning.

You left feeling wonderful and relaxed, wondering why more people cannot create such an effective business model.

Your turn.

The unreported rough and tumble in Jerusalem

July 16, 2011

Some years ago, I was on holiday in London, and happened to catch an item on the news about Israel. I felt that I was watching Jerusalem going up in flames. Overseas TV cameras happened to be conveniently recording, just as some school kids were spontaneously (?) rushed down a flight of steps following to a violent incident. Yelps from frightened children.

A few minutes later, a friend phoned me for an explanation. I responded by describing my incredulity. I did not believe that Jerusalem had been erased from the face of the map, just because of some clever camera work.

Now jump forward to July 2011. The international media is focussing on ultra orthodox Jews combatting the police or Jewish-Arab protests towards the eastern side of the city. And yes, these are serious issues. However, if that is what is occupying the lives of barely 7,000 protesters and police together, what are the other 700,000 up to?

Sheila Raviv writes a lively weekly blog about life in Jerusalem. Yesterday she described how:

Every summer something exceptional happens in Jerusalem on a Monday and Thursday. Shouk Mahane Yehuda becomes a giant nightclub!!! Jill, Irit and I went for supper on the pavement of Jaffa Street …… We sat watching to world go by – religious Jews, Arab Moslems, Arab Christians, secular Jews …… providing us with a constant floor show!

No, not just flowery words. My teenage daughter is spending much of this summer, watching live street concerts in the Holy City. For her, the key event will be the performance of Ziggy Marley on the 21st July. (No doubt, she will come home before midnight at least one evening this summer holiday!)

Move over to the commercial side of things. A local community group, Eden, has brought together other non-affiliated bodies to encourage financial rejuvenation for small businesses and shops in the main retail areas. These firms have suffered heavily in recent years from the Intifada and some poor central planning. For example, the new light railway is way beyond the original launch date.

As a result of the initiative, 200 city-based enterprises have already signed up for a heavily subsidised mentoring programmes. They will also be provided with improved social media facilities, enabling them to hook up with the growing tourist market.

What’s the good of all this great unreported news, if there are still major social and political troubles?

True, but there again, I learned this week that 800 ultra-orthodox women have finished their training as software engineers. This will encourage them to seek employment in an unfamiliar social environment and some will have to deal with non-religious people. If that is what helps bring people together in this very special and beautiful city, I am all for it.

“Unlimited” power? The mentor and the client

July 15, 2011

Jillian Michaels is an excellent life coach. Former star trainer on “Biggest Loser” she recently launched her most recent book,”Unlimited“.

 The author takes the – theme of all of us being able to do what we want to, providing we put our mind to it in the right way. Michaels then does something horrendously practical and actually sets out a methodology for people to move ahead. (I am not a fan of the style but the book is an easy read.)

In one of the earlier chapters, a well-known parable is quoted. A ship or plane never leaves port without having a fixed destination in mind, a plan of the weather and other trouble spots on the way, and a team of resources to help with the journey.

So, if you accept that your body is just a means to transport you where you want to go, why are so few of us non-specific in our intentions? Why are we so afraid to identify direct commercial visions? Why do we let ourselves drift, assuming  – even praying – that something will just turn up?

This week alone in separate mentoring sessions in Jerusalem, I meet two fairly youngish individuals, well-educated and well-intentioned family people. They have dabbled commercially here and there with varying degrees of success. I asked them where they wanted to be in 5 years time. What did they want to do with their lives?

Aside from some greyish responses about being healthy, looking after the kids, etc, nothing was too forthcoming. As I put it to them, I could have received the same response from all the other people in the same building. And they agreed. Their respective ships are drifting aimlessly, but at least the captains have now been alerted to the problem.

From a different perspective, I met up with an established client, who has a well-defined aim as to what she wants to achieve and why. Great. Ask her how, and then the ship starts listing.

  • “Oh, I don’t do marketing”, she ways.
  • “Why not?”
  • “I am no good at it.”
  • “Who says?”
  • “Me.”
  • “When did you last do it properly?”
  • “Well, never.”
  • “And yet you are very personable, have many friends, have talked your way into your current job by selling yourself. Prove to me that you are no good at selling.”
  • SILENCE! 

And that continues to be my role with her, showing what she is capable of with a couple of small changes.

Michaels is correct. It is not just that “we can do it”. That phrase was around way before any American Presidential campaign. People need a methodology. And we should be embarassed to ask others to show them how.

Consumers, Facebook and the Israeli conundrum

July 12, 2011

Analysts will debate for years the ultimate importance of the internet during the revolution of the “Arab Spring”. In neighbouring Israel, a parallel and separate social change has taken place. Following yet another rise in the price of cottage cheese, a staple for many Israelis at the breakfast table, a facebook campaign led to a consumer boycott and a collapse of the product’s retail price by up to 50%.

Suddenly, everyone is trying to be a hero. Politicians have set up a parliamentary committee…on the price of cottage cheese. Some of the main manufacturers have asked for forgiveness from the public. And what started with the white cheese has spread to other milk products, the price of popcorn in cinemas, and even bus routes.

Zap, a website which allows consumers to compare the price of electrical items, is considering adding food products to its service.

All change……or not?

Let’s start with the politicians, and even add in experienced civil servants. Many of the relevant ministers and advisers are heavily associated with farming groups, who have a vested interest in keeping base prices high. Are you trying to tell me that the decision makers  only woke up to the problem when they read the newspapers one morning? And all they can now do is discuss the price of what their wives buy to put their kids’ sandwiches?

Anyway, the price of the cheese has already began to creep back up. In order to prevent this, the government is seriously considering a plan to support milk farmers. Smell a rat?

As for the consumers themselves, they have always known that in Israel’s small economy is replete of examples of competition and pricing work in opposite directions. Here’s a simple case study: Every beginning of May, the populace is bewildered by reports that owing to the weather having been too hot, too rainy, too windy or not hot – rainy – windy enough, the price of local summer fruits will go through the roof.  And thus it happened again this year.

Import you cry out! Back to the vested interests. And there we go again.

Even facebook revolutions can only last for a limited period of time – never mind whether you live in downtown Bahrain or Tel Aviv. You cannot protest about everything all the time.

What am I saying? 25 years ago, the government finally stopped supporting the textile industry with subsidies and import tariffs. Thousands were laid off in the short-term; prices in the shops plummeted, as overseas items entered the country; room was made for the high-tech sector. The economy rumbles ahead very comfortably.

The food industry has a strategic importance, which cannot be attributable to clothing. However, that does not mean the consumer has to suffer. That does mean that the milking industry should live a false life based on subsidies, proposed by a public sector socially tied to those farmers. 

So far, the facebook campaign has been directed against manufacturers. Perhaps the real anger should be directed towards politicians, who appear to be protecting friends.

Are you busy or are you effective?

July 8, 2011

A typical client will often tell me how they are busy. They certainly do not have enough time for family matters. And they definitely have no extra time for any assignments I give them.

Even worse, they will complain that they do not have time for the important things of their business. Now, if that sounds strange, if not actually a huge misfit, then you are correct. But there again, why does it also happen to so many of you as well?

I have written extensively how we often become tied up with matters which are not relevant, but they seem important and are definitely time-consuming.

To illustrate my point, look at this recent story. A potential client has been asking me to start mentoring her. We have already made three attempts at setting up a meeting. She is not located nearby. This is not specifically my area of activity. Once I pushed aside the fog in my mind, I understood that the best I could do for her (and for me) was to suggest that she link up with a rival of mine.

Suddenly, all sides were happy. I had some extra time, to be dedicated towards commercial activity of a more profitable nature.

Another pitfall; Loads of people confuse domestic chores with their business life. One previous client often insisted that he could not meet up with me, because he had to go shopping on a specific day. Well, that one soon bit the dust, as I established just how much money he needed to be earning.

Busy is not the same as being effective. Never forget that nor confuse the two.

And what keeps you effective? This link from ten leading business personalities gives some simple, obvious, successful, but frequently ignored pointers. For example, how many of us claim that they can survive on little sleep? Probably true, but that does not enable you to put in a good performance the following day.

And here is my own tip. It is a simple yoga exercise, which was introduced to me a couple of months back. It takes one minute every day. Don’t ask me why, but my concentration levels have improved mega percentage points since using it.

As for yourselves, think about that one of your actions that you know keeps you on the ball. Then expand on that, bringing it in to play even more. Don’t be afraid of encouraging yourself to do well.

The real poverty in Gaza

July 1, 2011

One year after Israel naval commandos stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza, a second flotilla is now setting off with the same aim.

Last year’s attempt to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza ended in farce, each side with their own spin. Did Israel break international law? On the other hand, why were some of the participants up for a very violent fight and why was much of the so-called aid out of date? Strange.

As for this time round, let’s move past the rhetoric and ask if Gaza really needs an armada of aid. Was David Cameron correct when he said earlier this year that Gaza is a “prison camp”?

Israelis will argue that Gaza is not what the BBC or New York Times try to portray it as. While not exactly the Bahrain of the Near East, neither is Gaza totally a basket case. For example, the Hebrew newspaper “Yediot” had a 2-page feature with colour photos, detailing how Gaza is developing. The beaches look full and the shops are busy.

The Israeli army issued a video this week of a typical convey of luxury goods passing into the Gaza Strip from Israel. Similarly, a snappy 80 second utube clip clearly reviews how many parts of Gaza have long since abandoned poverty levels quoted by politicians. (You have to wonder who posted the original video.)

OK, so for more objective reporting, I turned to overseas correspondents. A Japanese writer had observed a few months ago that “Gaza and the West Bank are the only places in the world where I have seen refugees drive Mercedes.”

This week, a syndicated article from Ethan Bonner looked in depth at the emerging tunnel economy of Gaza. A powerful opening paragraph observes how: –

Two luxury hotels are opening in Gaza this month. Thousands of new cars are plying the roads. A second shopping mall – with escalators imported from Israel – will open next month. Hundreds of homes and two dozen schools are about to go up. A Hamas-run farm where Jewish settlements once stood is producing enough fruit that Israeli imports are tapering off.

Kevin Myers in a brave analysis in the Irish Independent asks: –

how can anyone possibly think that Gaza is the primary centre of injustice in the Middle East? According to Mathilde Redmatn, deputy director of the International Red Cross in Gaza, there is in fact no humanitarian crisis there at all. But by God, there is one in Syria, where possibly thousands have died in the past month.

After all, if the Palestinian news agency, Ma’an, is to be trusted, there is no shortage of cars in Gaza. The reason for the lowish number of new items is due to the local tax regulations imposed by Hamas.

An interesting blog summed up the forked approach to Gaza’s economy very succinctly:

While violence continues in Syria, Libya, Egypt and Yemen, there is one place in the Arab world where stability is growing as factories and farms multiply, construction booms and unemployment drops.  Ironically, that place is Gaza – the place singled out for international attention as the next flotilla prepares to sail, staffed by leftist loonies bearing solidarity, love and concern for people who are better off than many Americans living in Newark, Detroit, Washington D.C. and New York.  These pusillanimous rescuers are not floating off to Darfur, Congo or Sudan where photo-ops are hard to come by and marauding thugs are unfazed by such concerns as respect for interfering faux do-gooders.  They are not trudging to Afghanistan where sick people and the medical staff who tend them are marked for murder, nor will they insist on seeing Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas for five years without a single visit by the Red Cross.  Their outpouring of compassion exists only for the purported victims of Israeli aggression – there is no credence given to the barbaric tactics of Hamas planting its military operations in the midst of their own civilian populations, or murdering its own domestic opposition, much less targeting Israeli children on school buses for demolition.

So is the latest flotilla designed to help the people of Gaza or satisfy the dubious ranting of those people claiming to be supporters of peace?